Russian President, Vladimir Putin
Fired up by his martial spirit, judo black belt Vladimir Putin is likely to be at his combative best when he meets British Prime Minister David Cameron for a tussle over Syria on the sidelines of an Olympic judo match in London on Thursday.
On his first trip to London in nine years, Russia's most powerful man will watch a session of his favorite sport and test his mettle with Cameron over Syria, the biggest irritant in Russia's relations with the West, in a day of judo diplomacy, reports Reuters.
For a former KGB spy who revels in his hard-man image, the sight of judokas in blue and white robes body-slamming each other on the Olympic mat will offer a powerful backdrop to Russian diplomacy.
"He can't afford to seem weak," said Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor and expert on Russia.
"Putin tends to be much more bullish when he is on safe ground. ... I can't speak as to whether or not Cameron will be in bullish mode, but I do suspect Putin will be setting himself up to give at least as good as he gets."
Cameron said last week he and Putin might attend the Games together.
As in Soviet times, sports and diplomacy are never too far apart, and for Putin, London's Olympic mats are about as close as foreign soil comes to being his home turf.
As the honorary president of the International Judo Federation, the sport's governing body, he will bask in the limelight on Thursday, surrounded by adoring Russian athletes and flag-waving fans.
The men's 100 kg and women's 78 kg judo competitions are on that day, with the two finals around 4 p.m. One Russian each is in contention in the men's and women's.
Meeting Putin in this setting could be tricky task.
Talks will inevitably revolve around Syria, Russia's firmest foothold in the Middle East. Britain and Russia are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Russia has faced growing Western criticism of its position on Syria, with the United States and Britain demanding Moscow drop its support for President Bashar al-Assad. Cameron is expected to make the case personally to Putin on Thursday.
Western powers believe that ousting Assad is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria. Russia, on the other hand, provides arms to Damascus and has blocked three Western resolutions calling to increase pressure on Assad.